Student foresters place third in nation
William Kelley High School senior Al Robertsen received an impromptu education in non-native North Shore plants early last week.
Robertsen was in a central-Indiana forest preparing for the forestry competition at the Future Farmers of America national convention. He observed a leafy vine that had climbed up what appeared to be a boxelder tree.
“I thought that was weird because there shouldn’t be boxelder there,” Robertsen said. “So I went to grab it and realized it was part of a vine and the forester saw that it was poison ivy. That kind of freaked me out for a bit.”
The forester had a supply of rubbing alcohol and was able to wash off the oils that cause the poison ivy rash, but it was an eye opener for the entire team.
“Luckily, he didn’t get poison ivy, but it was our way to figure out that we weren’t in Kansas anymore,” 2017 WKS graduate Gunnar Frahm said.
Robertsen and three 2017 graduates of WKHS traveled to Indianapolis last week to represent Minnesota in the national forestry competition, finishing third in the U.S.
The finish is even more impressive because practices and get-togethers were limited — two team members are now in school at the University Minnesota Duluth, and a third wasn’t even part of the team that won the state competition in April.
Frahm and Zack Lewis are studying biochemistry at UMD and Caitlin Martineau wasn’t part of the team, but substituted in for Andrew Evenson, who has been in National Guard basic training in Fort Jackson, S.C., and advanced individual training (AIT) in Fort Lee, Va. Martineau studies natural resources at Lake Superior College in Duluth.
Since the team wasn’t able to practice together as much, they traveled to Indianapolis early to see some of the forests. The competition started with a written exam, followed by four individual practicums like tree identification and timber cruising, which involves assessing a select stand of trees and estimate the board feet of timber the stand could produce.
All four competitors had to play a bit of catch-up because of their other responsibilities. Martineau, in particular, had to start from scratch in July because she wasn’t a part of the forestry team when she was in the FFA; however, she still finished 16th in the nation.
The team’s preparation got an unexpected assist from Evenson when envelopes from South Carolina started showing up at school over the summer. To help the team expand its tree identification skills, Evenson started collecting samples of trees to send back to Minnesota.
The National Guard would typically allow recruits to leave training to participate in a competition like the FFA, but Evenson already started basic training once.
Evenson chose the National Guard’s “split option,” where he would complete basic training during the summer between his junior and senior year. Unfortunately, he developed appendicitis during his first attempt and had to return home before completing training. After graduation, he had to go back into basic training to complete his AIT before the two-year time limit on his enlistment expired and he was discharged. This prevented him from competing at the convention.
“I felt bad that I had to kind of leave them in the dust like that,” Evenson said. “I wanted to be able to contribute to help them learn. I thought it might help motivate them if I was helping them and giving them stuff to help them on their adventure.”
Evenson said learning about the variety of unfamiliar trees was not only an opportunity to help his team and some of his best friends from high school, it also provided some welcome relief during some of the tougher moments of basic training, like the long ruck marches with a pack full of gear.
“Whenever we would go on a field training exercises, I would be looking at the trees,” he said. “My experience in forestry made it so I could look at the trees and it would help me focus and keep me from thinking about how hard the ruck marches were.”
Leah Bott, the WKHS FFA adviser, said she was proud of the commitment the team showed in representing the school and Minnesota at the competition, especially those taking a break from their college studies to lend a hand to their high school. She was also thankful for how supportive parents and the community have been as the team has grown over the past few years.
“”They’ve been a great group of students and we’ve had great support from the school and community in helping us get where we are,” she said. “It really does take a village.”